Top 15 Oldest Airlines Still In Operation In The World

The history of aviation is marked by significant milestones that have shaped commercial air travel’s development, highlighting the industry’s resilience and innovation.

Among these milestones, the distinction of the oldest airline still in operation holds a distinguished place, symbolising the pioneering spirit and continuous evolution of the sector.

This overview introduces the top 15 oldest airlines, each with unique contributions to the global aviation landscape. These carriers have played a role in advancing air travel, demonstrating an enduring commitment to connecting the world through the skies.

#1. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, officially known as Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V., is distinguished as the world’s oldest airline still in operation, having been established on October 7, 1919.

With its headquarters in Amstelveen and a primary hub at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, KLM epitomises the pioneering spirit of aviation.

The airline was founded by 8 Dutch businessmen, including notable figures such as Albert Plesman, its first administrator and director.

KLM’s inaugural flight took off on May 17, 1920, marking the start of its scheduled service from London to Amsterdam. This milestone was followed by rapid expansion, including initiating the world’s first airline reservations and ticket office in Amsterdam in 1921.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, KLM expanded its routes across Europe and ventured into long-haul flights, notably establishing the world’s longest scheduled air route to the Dutch East Indies in 1930.

The airline’s global footprint grew over the decades despite challenges such as World War II, during which KLM’s operations were primarily confined to the West Indies.

Post-war, KLM resumed its European services and became the first European airline to introduce scheduled transatlantic flights to New York in 1946.

KLM’s legacy is not just in its longevity but also in its continuous innovation and expansion, which includes a merger with Air France in 2004 to further strengthen its position in the global aviation market.

Today, KLM operates a significant network of routes worldwide, maintaining its status as a Netherlands flag carrier and a SkyTeam airline alliance member.

#2. Avianca

Avianca, Colombia’s national airline, is the second oldest airline still in operation worldwide, founded on December 5, 1919.

This pioneering aviation company began its journey in Barranquilla, Colombia, under the original name Sociedad Colombo-Alemana de Transportes Aéreos (SCADTA).

It was established by a group that included Colombian and German citizens, with the visionary aim to connect Colombia internally and with the world.

Avianca’s first operational flight took to the skies on September 5, 1920, marking a historic moment by transporting mail between Barranquilla and the nearby town of Puerto Colombia.

The airline’s early days were characterised by innovation and expansion. Utilising a fleet of Junkers F.13 aircraft, Avianca pioneered airmail transportation within Colombia in partnership with the German scientist and philanthropist Peter von Bauer, who played a role in the airline’s development.

By the mid-1920s, Avianca had expanded its reach to international destinations in Venezuela and the United States, setting the stage for its future as a key player in global aviation.

Throughout its history, Avianca has been at the forefront of aviation milestones, such as introducing the first jet-powered aircraft in Latin America, the Boeing 707, in 1960. This move underscored Avianca’s commitment to innovation and its role in connecting the Americas with the rest of the world.

#3. Qantas Empire Airways

Qantas Airways Limited, known for its iconic Flying Kangaroo logo, is Australia’s flag carrier and the oldest continuously operating airline in the English-speaking world.

Founded on November 16, 1920, as Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd., the airline’s origins lie in the small town of Winton, Queensland.

The founding trio, Paul McGinness, Hudson Fysh, and Fergus McMaster, aimed to provide air service across the remote regions of Australia. Their initial operation was humble, focusing on taxi services and pleasure flights.

By 1922, Qantas had embarked on its first regular service between Charleville and Cloncurry, and it wasn’t long before the airline expanded its routes across the continent.

A significant milestone came in 1934 with the formation of Qantas Empire Airways Limited, a collaborative venture with Britain’s Imperial Airways.

This partnership operated the Brisbane-Singapore leg of the service connecting Australia to England and marked the beginning of Qantas’s international service offerings.

The Australian government nationalised Qantas in 1947, recognising its role as the national carrier. That same year, Qantas commenced its legendary “Kangaroo Route” to London, gradually expanding its reach to every continent over the following decades.

#4. Aeroflot

Aeroflot, Russia’s flag carrier and the country’s largest airline has a storied past that positions it among the world’s oldest active airlines. Founded on February 3, 1923, Aeroflot began its operations on July 15 of the same year, making it a pioneering force in the aviation industry​​.

Originally established under the Soviet regime, Aeroflot was known as Dobrolyot before it was reorganised under its current name in 1932.

From its early days, Aeroflot has played a critical role in connecting various parts of the vast Soviet Union, evolving into an airline that served the entire Soviet state and significantly expanded its reach internationally​.

During the Soviet era, Aeroflot became one of the largest airlines globally, responsible for all civil aviation in the Soviet Union and serving an extensive network of destinations both within the country and internationally.

It was known for operating a fleet composed entirely of Soviet-manufactured aircraft. It was at the forefront of several technological milestones, including launching the world’s first civilian jet air service in 1956.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked a significant transformation for Aeroflot.

It was restructured into an open joint-stock company and underwent a dramatic downsizing, modernising its fleet with Western aircraft and expanding its international service offerings.

Despite facing challenges such as international sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which reduced destinations, Aeroflot has maintained its position as a key player in the aviation industry. As of December 2023, Aeroflot continues to operate flights to several international destinations​.

#5. Czech Airlines

Czech Airlines, the flag carrier of Czechia, founded in 1923, is among the world’s oldest airlines. Initially serving the newly established Czechoslovakia, its operations were halted during World War II and later resumed under the post-war Communist regime.

In 1957, Czech Airlines pioneered jet transportation, introducing the Soviet-made Tupolev Tu-104A, notably on the Prague to Moscow route, marking the first jet-only connection.

The airline expanded significantly during the Cold War, with a vast network and fleet of 21 Ilyushin Il-62 aircraft.

However, it also experienced the aviation industry’s first mass hijacking in 1950. Following the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc, Czech Airlines underwent modernisation and restructuring in the 1990s.

Despite facing bankruptcy in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has recently undergone reorganisation with a new investor, Prague City Air, allowing it to reach its 100th anniversary.

#6. Finnair

Finnair, established in 1923, is not only Finland’s flag carrier but also holds the distinction of being the sixth oldest airline in the world and still in operation.

Founded by Consul Bruno Lucander under the name Aero O/Y, the airline embarked on its first flight in 1924, marking the beginning of what would become a storied history in aviation.

From its early days, Finnair showed a penchant for pioneering achievements within the industry.

For instance, it was the first Western airline to fly to Moscow in 1956 and entered the jet age in 1960 with its new Caravelle passenger jets. This significant milestone underscored its commitment to modernising its fleet.

In 1968, Finnair achieved another milestone by carrying one million passengers for the first time in its history. This period also saw the airline launch its first flights to New York, further expanding its international footprint.

Throughout its history, Finnair has been at the forefront of adopting new technologies and expanding its route network, especially in Asia.

In 1975, it introduced wide-body, wide-body aircraft to its fleet, which enabled longer flights, such as the direct flights to Bangkok, which had been initiated in 1976.

The airline continued to innovate, becoming the first to operate non-stop flights between Western Europe and Japan in 1983. In 1986, it was the first to acquire satellite telephones for its aircraft.

As it celebrates a century of operation, Finnair’s journey from its inception in 1923 to a global airline highlights its resilience and adaptability, continuing to connect Finland with the rest of the world​.

#7. Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines has its origins in the world’s first aerial crop-dusting company, Huff Daland Dusters, was founded in 1925.

The transition from Huff Daland Dusters to Delta Air Service in 1928 marked the airline’s first step towards becoming a passenger carrier. It initiated its first passenger flight in 1929 from Dallas, Texas, to Jackson, Mississippi, with several stops, including Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana​.

Delta’s history is punctuated by significant milestones contributing to its growth and resilience. In 1934, following the airmail scandal, Delta secured a contract for Mail Route 24, which enabled the company to resume passenger services and officially operate as Delta Air Lines.

The airline’s commitment to innovation and customer service began early, with the introduction of night service in 1935, marking the airline’s first flight operated by two pilots​.

Throughout the decades, Delta has been at the forefront of aviation milestones. The airline was the first to introduce the DC-8 jet service in 1959, embodying the speed and efficiency of the jet age.

Delta’s pioneering spirit continued into the 1960s with the introduction of the Convair 880 and Douglas DC-9 jet service, further expanding its route network and enhancing passenger experience​.

Delta’s adaptability and strategic growth have been evident through its various acquisitions, including the merger with Chicago and Southern Air Lines in 1953, which introduced Delta to international routes.

Delta Airlines’ innovative approach to operations was demonstrated in 1955 with the pioneering use of the hub and spoke system. This operational model revolutionised air travel, enabling Delta to efficiently manage passenger flow and extend its network.

#8. Tajik Air

Tajik Air occupies a significant place in aviation history with its historical roots stretching back to 1924.

Tajik Air’s journey began with its first flight from Bukhara to Dushanbe, initiating civil aviation development in Tajikistan. Over the decades, Tajik Air expanded its operations, modernising its fleet and extending its domestic and international reach.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Tajikistan’s aviation sector became one of the most developed in the country, with Tajik Air integrating aircraft like the Antonov An-2s and Ilyushin Il-12s into its fleet.

This period saw the airline opening routes and enhancing its operational capabilities, reflecting its commitment to connecting Tajikistan with the world​.

Despite its historical significance and contributions to the region’s aviation sector, Tajik Air has faced challenges in recent years, including suspending operations temporarily due to technical and financial difficulties.

However, the airline’s resilience and efforts to restart operations emphasise its enduring legacy in the aviation industry​.

#9. American Airlines

American Airlines, tracing its origins to April 15, 1926, as American Airways, Inc., is a storied carrier in the aviation industry.

American Airlines came into being through the amalgamation of over 80 small airlines in 1930, evolving significantly over the decades to become one of the world’s largest airlines.

The airline began operations under the name American Airways. It underwent significant reorganisation in 1934 due to new laws and the attrition of mail contracts, which led to its rebranding as American Airlines​​.

American Airlines was instrumental in developing critical aviation milestones, including the Douglas DC-3 and the DC-10.

The airline’s initiative to request a wide-body aircraft capable of operating on shorter runways than the Boeing 747 led to the creation of the DC-10 by McDonnell Douglas. This marks a significant advancement in aviation technology and operational capabilities​.

Throughout its history, American Airlines has pioneered various aspects of airline operation and customer service. This includes the introduction of computerised reservation systems, the AAdvantage frequent flyer program, and significant expansions in both domestic and international markets.

Its merger with U.S. Airways in 2013 created one of the largest global airlines, demonstrating American Airlines’ capacity for adaptation and growth in the competitive aviation sector​.

#10. Grand Canyon Airlines

Grand Canyon Airlines, originally named Scenic Airways, was established in 1927 by J. Parker Van Zandt at Grand Canyon, Arizona. It is one of the earliest airlines in the United States and a contender for the title of the oldest air tour company in continuous operation worldwide.

Its inaugural flight took place on October 3, 1927, employing a Ford Trimotor aircraft, signifying the beginning of its long-standing tradition of offering sightseeing tours over and around the Grand Canyon.

In 1930, the airline rebranded to become Grand Canyon Airlines and has since been a pioneer in commercial airline service to areas such as Boulder City Airport starting June 15, 1936.

Throughout its history, Grand Canyon Airlines has played a role in aerial sightseeing and passenger service, providing unique perspectives of the Grand Canyon’s breathtaking landscapes.

The airline’s commitment to showcasing the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon has remained steadfast, evolving over the years to include various services and destinations.

Today, Grand Canyon Airlines operates out of Grand Canyon National Park Airport and Boulder City Airport, Nevada, continuing to offer memorable experiences for visitors worldwide​​.

#11. Air Serbia

Air Serbia, Serbia’s flag carrier, boasts a rich history that traces its origins back to 1927, making it one of the oldest airlines still in operation today.

The airline’s story begins with the formation of Aeroput, the first Serbian company for civil air transport, marking the start of commercial aviation in the region.

Belgrade, the nation’s capital, quickly became the central hub for Aeroput’s operations, emphasising the airline’s significance in the early days of commercial flight.

Over the years, Air Serbia has undergone several transformations, reflecting the changing dynamics of the aviation industry and the region’s geopolitical landscape.

Despite these changes, the airline has continuously operated under various names, including JAT Airways, before rebranding to Air Serbia in 2013.

This legacy is about longevity and the airline’s role in connecting Serbia with Europe and the rest of the world, facilitating cultural and economic exchanges.

Today, Air Serbia continues to build on its storied past, offering a wide range of international flights and serving as a key player in the European aviation market​.

#12. Wiggins Airways

Wiggins Airways, established in 1929 by E.W. Wiggins, is recognised as one of the oldest airlines still in operation in the United States.

From its early days operating out of Manchester, New Hampshire, Wiggins Airways has carved out a niche in the aviation industry, especially focusing on cargo transportation.

Over the years, it has evolved into an all-cargo airline with a significant presence throughout 12 Northeastern and Southeastern United States.

The transition to an Employee Share Ownership Plan in 1985 marked a significant milestone in the company’s history, showcasing its commitment to its employees and the broader community it serves.

Today, Wiggins Airways employs over 160 people and is part of the Ameriflight family, highlighting its continued importance in regional freight operations.

With nearly a century of aviation history, Wiggins Airways is a testament to the enduring spirit of innovation and resilience in the face of changing times

#13. LOT Polish Airlines

LOT Polish Airlines, founded on December 29, 1928, and commencing operations on January 1, 1929, is among the oldest airlines still in operation globally.

Established by the Polish government, LOT was born from the amalgamation of two existing carriers, Aerolot and Aero, to create a national airline that would serve domestic and international destinations.

This strategic move aimed to enhance Poland’s connectivity and promote its presence in the early aviation market.

From its humble beginnings with a fleet that included Fokker F.VII and Junkers F.13 aircraft, LOT has grown significantly, navigating through the challenges of the 20th century. This includes the geopolitical upheavals that impacted Eastern Europe.

Despite these challenges, LOT Polish Airlines has maintained a continuous operation, evolving into a modern carrier while preserving its historical legacy.

Today, with Warsaw as its hub, LOT serves a wide network of destinations across Europe, Asia, and North America, playing an important role in connecting Poland with the rest of the world.

#14. Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines, founded on January 30, 1929, as Inter-Island Airways, is one of the oldest airlines still in operation globally.

This airline launched its first flights on November 11, 1929, initially providing air service between the Hawaiian Islands with a fleet that included two 8-seater Sikorsky aircraft and a Bellanca monoplane.

The airline’s beginnings are connecting the Hawaiian Islands, facilitating travel and communication within this remote part of the United States. In 1941, the company was rebranded as Hawaiian Airlines, reflecting its broader ambition and growth beyond inter-island flights.

Over the decades, Hawaiian Airlines has significantly expanded its network, transitioning from a regional service provider to an international carrier.

This expansion has enabled connections between the Hawaiian Islands and Hawaii and the mainland U.S., Asia, and the South Pacific, promoting Hawaii as a premier tourist destination.

Hawaiian Airlines is recognised for its outstanding safety record, having never experienced a fatal accident or hull loss throughout its long history.

#15. LAN Airlines

LAN Airlines, originally established as Línea Aérea Nacional de Chile (LAN Chile) in 1929 by Comandante Arturo Merino Benítez, is recognised as one of the oldest continuously operating airlines in the world.

Founded to provide air service within Chile, LAN Airlines grew to connect the country’s far-flung regions, considering Chile’s unique geographical challenges.

This foundation laid the groundwork for the airline to expand beyond national borders, eventually establishing itself as a key player in international aviation.

LAN Airlines significantly broadened its network through strategic partnerships and expansions, connecting South America to various destinations worldwide.

The airline’s history is marked by continuous growth and modernisation, including fleet upgrades and new technologies, positioning it as a modern, efficient airline with a strong emphasis on customer service and safety.

In 2012, LAN Airlines merged with Brazil’s TAM Airlines to form LATAM Airlines Group, creating the largest airline group in Latin America.

Despite this rebranding, the legacy of LAN Airlines as a pioneer in aviation continues to influence LATAM’s operations, embodying nearly a century of the evolution of aviation and innovation

Conclusion About The Oldest Airline Still In Operation

The top 15 oldest airlines in the world stand as pillars of the aviation industry, each with a unique story of resilience and innovation.

From humble beginnings to global operations, these airlines have shaped the industry and connected people and cultures across continents. Their enduring contributions to aviation continue to influence how we travel and experience the world today.

As we reflect on their legacy, it’s evident that these airlines have paved the way for modern air travel and continue to play a role in shaping the industry’s future. Their commitment to safety, service, and innovation sets the standard for excellence in aviation.

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Frequently Asked Questions About The Oldest Airline Still In Operation

What Is The Oldest Airline Still In Operation In Asia?

The oldest airline in Asia still in operation is Philippine Airlines, founded on February 26, 1941. As Asia’s first and longest-serving airline, it has played a pivotal role in connecting the Philippines with the rest of the world, fostering economic growth and cultural exchange.

Over the decades, Philippine Airlines has expanded its network to serve domestic and international destinations, adapting to changing market demands and technological advancements.

Which Is The First Airline In The World?

The first airline in the world was KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, officially established on October 7, 1919.
Known for being the oldest continuously operating airline in the world, KLM has maintained a significant presence in international aviation for over a century.

This Dutch flagship carrier has set industry standards in innovation, customer service, and aviation safety throughout its history.

What Role Do The Oldest Airlines Play In Global Logistics And Cargo Transport?

The oldest airlines have been instrumental in shaping the global logistics and cargo transport industry. They have leveraged their extensive networks and experience to facilitate international trade, enabling the swift movement of goods across continents.

These airlines have also contributed to developing air cargo infrastructure and technological innovations, such as temperature-controlled shipments and tracking systems.

What Have Been The Key Factors In Ensuring The Longevity Of The Oldest Airlines?

The longevity of the oldest airlines can be attributed to several key factors, including adaptability to technological advancements, commitment to safety and customer service, and strategic network expansion.

These airlines have consistently invested in modernising their fleets, improving operational efficiencies, and expanding their global presence through alliances and partnerships.

Their ability to navigate economic downturns and rapidly changing market conditions has also maintained their relevance and operational success over the decades.

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